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Atomic cold cream

Somehow I don’t think any cosmetics company today could get away with doing an experiment like this to prove how well its cold cream cleans the most dirt and makeup residue from a model’s skin.

I’d also really love a copy of the “Atomic Test Booklet” that people could mail the company to request. You’d never guess from the title that it’s about makeup. Also, I have to wonder. Some 50 or 60 years later:

  • Is the model in this commercial still alive?
  • How many skin cancers did she have removed from her face?

Inquiring minds wnat to know!

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

27 replies on “Atomic cold cream”

Just speculating: is it *possible* that there is an underlying subtext to this ad – that this superior cream will remove all of those pesky radioactive particles that land on your skin (from that worrisome atomic bomb testing)and therefore somehow *protect* you? People were scared enough of radioactivity to make it the topic of countless sci-fi horror stories and movies.

Probably contains the mysterious substance from planet Q, illudium phosdex, the shaving cream atom. First identified by famous explored D. Dodgers of the 24 an 1/2 century and his creator C. Jones…and confidentially, it stinks.

Hey, this is the era when doctors were shown lighting up in cigarette ads. This isn’t that far out for the time at all.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Somers Goes There WRT Patrick Swayze:

“They took a beautiful man” and “put poison in his body”…

…Somers, who has a book about cancer coming out next month, said: “Why couldn’t they have built him up nutritionally and got ten rid of the toxins? . . . I hate to be this controversial . . . but I have to speak out.”

I saw the Somers comments as well and was in a complete snit. It was in the NY Post (via Huff Post) and the comments following the article were vehemently negative I’m happy to say! This woman is way dumber than Chrissy Snow.

“Somers, who has a book about cancer coming out next month, said: “Why couldn’t they have built him up nutritionally and gotten rid of the toxins? . . . I hate to be this controversial . . . but I have to speak out.”

If you’re dumber than dirt, can that wonderful cold cream from the ’50s absorb all your stupidity and cleanse your brain?

I was just reading Bill Bryson’s memoirs, and he talks about the people who used to go out to the Nevada desert at the fringe of atomic bomb test zones with picnic lunches, to see the show. Afterwards they’d get a nice dusting of fallout.

I’d post more, but the glowing radium hands on my wristwatch say it’s time for dinner.

“Is the model in this commercial still alive?”


“How many skin cancers did she have removed from her face?”

Probably, not more than a regular person.

One of my teachers at university used to do this demonstration – he drank a solution of dilute radioactive potassium chloride and then traced its movement with a Geiger counter. It looked scary, but was quite safe.

Not only cosmetic companies make mistakes.

Harold Smith (detective)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harold Smith (b. 1926, d. February 19, 2005) was a noted investigator and detective.
Smith represented Lloyds of London and many other insurance companies for over 50 years, specializing in fine-art and jewelry theft.

— snip —

Smith, who had an unusual appearance in latter years – an eyepatch and rubber nose as a result of skin cancer – was featured in the 2005 documentary film Stolen. The film was dedicated to Smith’s memory. Ulrich Boser’s 2009 book, The Gardner Heist, gives an in-depth recounting of the many leads Smith followed in his investigation of the stolen paintings. In passing, it also provides intriguing biographical details about Harold Smith himself.

Born in the South Bronx, Smith attended local Catholic schools and then the Merchant Marine Academy in New York. After the Second World War he became an insurance adjuster for Lloyd’s. It was while working in merchant shipping that Smith contracted a dry-skin condition and allowed himself to be subjected to experimental treatments. Smith was covered with oil and exposed to full-body ultraviolet light, which developed into skin cancer throughout his body. Eventually he lost a lung, his right eye and finally his nose, along with all sense of smell.[1]

He was the father of eight children.

Ace of Sevens —

It’s been a few years ago since I studied this stuff (about the time Orac was in Med School) but a Geiger counter is a fairly primitive device for detecting radiation. About all it does is tell you something came through the chamber and knocked some electrons loose to trigger a discharge and give you the click.

To get an estimate of the actual danger, you need to use more sophisticated detectors or monitors that account for the type of radiation (photons like x-rays or gamma rays vs low mass particles like electrons (beta particles) vs heavy particles like alpha particles (a helium nucleus without the electrons).

The rate of clicks doesn’t sound like a very high dose, though. You might get something like that by just pointing the Geiger counter at yourself. You are naturally radioactive even without makeup.

By the early 1950’s we were pretty aware that radiation was dangerous, but unfortunately we didn’t do a very good job of converting that into effective detection and protection systems for a while.

Sadly, some of that knowledge came from workers who got cancer from using their lips to put a nice fine tip on the paint brushes they used to paint dials and hands for watches with radium paint.

However, it took a while for that knowledge to accumulate and sink in. In the 1920’s and 30’s, lots of people thought radiation was a miracle cure and went into caves and mines to expose themselves to higher concentrations of radon gas!

As late as the 70’s and 90’s there was still a very strong debate going on about the relative danger of getting lots of very low doses of radiation versus a single very large dose.

I agree with those posters pointing out that the radiation dosage was probably negligible.
In about 1948, I sent in 25 cents and a cheerios boxtop to get my very own atomic bomb ring. Inside the rear finned portion was space for a very very small secret message (to smuggle atomic secrets across international borders?). Huddled into a dark corner of my mother’s closet, I could peer into the business end and watch flashes of light, as alpha particles from the radium (I presume) hit the zinc sulfide scintillation screen. I lost track of the ring eventually, but…
When I graduated from high school, I got a Bulova watch, with hands and hours that glowed in the dark, by the same mechanism. Though the watch eventually failed, I used it as a radioactive source for my physics classes for decades. I would also tell my students what happened to the women first employed to paint on those radium salts. (They would lick the ends of their paint brushes to make them pointy.) We also discussed the effects on Marie Curie herself.

I wonder if they were really using radioactive particles in the ad? After all, that would have cost extra – much easier and cheaper to have a male model looking all sciencey in a white coat waving a dummy geiger counter around, with clicking noises added to the soundtrack later.
Mind you, the fixed, desperate grin on the female model’s face suggests otherwise…..

My ex-husband had a device he took from his grandfather’s house, a brass box with a screen and mica-covered window. It was one of these, without the fancy case:

If you took it into an absolutely dark place and held it up to your eye, you would see teeeny little flashes. He carried it around a lot while he was a child, and took it with him to college, it being a geeky thing to have.

He loaned to Physic Major to test with a Geiger counter in the lab. PM tossed it in his briefcase with the laboriously typed final copy of a term paper, his books, etc. After class he asked the prof to check the device out. Prof quickly grabbed a bunch of lead bricks, made a little hut around the device and called the feds.

… a knock on the door, we say “come in” and the first thing through the door is a wand with something attached to it, followed by a couple of fully hooded and gloved and booted guys.

The nasty feds seized the Radiendocrinator, the drawer it was usually in, the contents of the drawer, PM’s briefcase with all its contents, PM’s pants, and they traced back through every dorm all the way back to his house, seizing and decontaminating as they went.

The device had relatively pure radium salts in it, the containment (blotter paper soaked in radium salt solutions) was disintegrating, and it leaked!

As I stroll through an antiques shop, I keep an eye out for small brass boxes like that. If I see one, I’m calling a HAZMAT squad.

As squirrelelite said, the Geiger counter is not really good at estimating radiation doses. Even the control badges that are worn when you work with radioactive substances (if you work with P32, for example) don’t tell the whole story. For example, tritium doesn’t even make the counter tic if you stick it on the countainer (because the radiation from it can be stopped by a sheet of paper), but I certainly would not swallow the stuff, knowing how high its specific activity is. Also remember that the counter clicks a lot less the farther you get from the source.

The main problem here (as it is in a lab working with radioactive substances) is contamination, ie, how much of that stuff stays on you, how much gets inside your body by means of mouth, mucous membranes or even skin absorption, where, contrarily to sunlight, it continues to irradiate your tissues.

Isn’t exposure to low level radiation good for you? In that it stimulates the body to resist genetic damage. I’m aware that a lot less people than are generally thought to died as a result of Chernobyl, the WHO puts the figure at around 56. So she probably suffered no ill effects from the commercial.

Isn’t exposure to low level radiation good for you? In that it stimulates the body to resist genetic damage.

Not really. It’s a question of statistics. We have very good DNA repair systems. The thing is, the more damage there is, the more the chance that some damage might not be repaired. And also, radiation is not the only source of damage – free radicals, including those that get created because we happen to breathe oxygen, are also very DNA-damaging.

I’m aware that a lot less people than are generally thought to died as a result of Chernobyl, the WHO puts the figure at around 56.

These things are pretty hard to estimate, because death from radiation goes in different waves. If you get an extremely high dose, you die from the burns – as if you got a mega-sunburn, except your insides are burnt too.

If you get a little less than what would burn you to death, your bone marrow dies off. Bone marrow contains the stem cells at the base of the components of your blood, so that is, if untreated, shortly (a couple weeks) lethal. You can survive however if a healthy matched donor can be found for a bone marrow graft (no very easy outside of family).

After that you get the cancers. Those can take 10-20 years to appear after exposure. Since the environment was contaminated in this case, exposure is possible even for the following generations, and that is what is seen in Russia – people who live in that area have a very high incidence of different cancers, and particularly of thyroid cancer in children. Fortunately, thyroid cancer is highly treatable (98% remission), provided you have access to modern medicine.

And don’t forget that there are also non-lethal (well, not immediately) diformities cause by chronic exposure to radioctive contaminants.

I agree with the posters who say the risk is pretty low. It was silly to take even this small risk, just to make an advertisement for a cosmetic product, but the risk was indeed small. No sillier than posing for a “class photo” of radiology graduates in the X Ray lab…

Chernobyl was interesting because previously our metrics for the danger of radioactive exposure had been extrapolated from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were a lot of data sets where we effectively had two points on a chart, and we extrapolated a straight line between them, but in reality it could be a smooth curve, or a much more complex function. Results from Chernobyl suggest that it’s not a straight line, that non-fatal exposures are less dangerous than was estimated at the time of the incident. As Kemist explained, we already know that some levels of exposure are quickly fatal and a whole bunch of people received that kind of exposure at the reactor site itself and died. But for ordinary citizens exposed only to fallout and subsequently evacuated the risk, though real, is fairly small.

One of the more annoying things about Chernobyl is that pressure groups as well as the usual conspiracy theorists tend to lump together everybody from the area who has subsequently died of cancer as a victim. The flaw in this idea is illustrated by considering that the accident happened 20+ years ago, and using your local statistics (assuming you live somewhere with somewhat decent modern healthcare) to find out how many people would naturally die of cancer in a population of that size over 20 years without ever being anywhere near a nuclear reactor, let alone an accident.

That is a weird ad. Those who think the Geiger counter sound was overdubbed are most likely correct- the clicks should not be regularly spaced. I suspect the demonstration is entirely a faked re-creation.

That process of detecting residual contamination was patented by my friend’s father, for industrial use. It certainly isn’t the first method I would think of for testing human skin.

The ad does not say the test was done on that model, or even that it was done on a human.

It could have been done on a shaved pig.

If, in fact, the whole thing wasn’t a hoax.

C’mon. How about a science based comment, Orac… The probability of a little bit of skin contamination causing a cancer is nil. You just took a major step down in credibility…
Why is it that when radiation is involved even seemingly rational individuals turn into an anti-science wonks?

Give me a break. A little light-hearted humor and sarcasm, and suddenly my credibility is shot? You’re easily disillusioned, aren’t you? Either that, your you’re trolling.

Not trolling… comments about glowing might be humorous. Pandering to the perception that any bit of radiation is detrimental to health is just disheartening. My reference to losing credibility is pure hyperbole.

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